As you all know, I’m a big fan of Mary Robinette Kowal and her series, The Glamourist Histories. I love her captivating combination of fantasy and Regency England – a combination that a Jane Austen fan such as myself, who also happens to adore fantasy, can’t resist. I recently read the third book in the series, Without a Summer, and found it to be my favorite to date. Kowal doesn’t shy away from making her heroine, Jane, a flawed character, forcing her to face her own prejudices and biases. It makes for a compelling story – one in which characters are seen in a different light and new layers uncovered, thereby making the reader clamor for the next chapter in the story of Jane and Vincent. I’m excited to have Mary back on the blog (check out her 5 x 5 list of books that inspired her) so without further ado…
Please welcome Mary to the blog as she discusses her new book,
WITHOUT A SUMMER.
1. What inspired you to combine the world of Regency England with the world of fantasy?
I’m a long time fantasy reader. I had just finished reading a giant epic fantasy, and moved on to a reread of Persuasion. When I got to the proposal scene, I wept, as I always do, and also wondered how Jane Austen could move me so deeply when the fate of the world wasn’t at stake. I wanted that level of emotion and an intimate story, but with magic. So I decided to see if I could take fantasy and fit it into a Jane Austen plot mold.
2. What can fans of The Glamourist Histories series expect from Without a Summer?
You get to spend more time with Melody and learn a bit more about Vincent’s past. In fact, I’m hoping that people will reread Shades of Milk and Honey and spot some of the things that I planted there.
There are also Luddites, rioting, and of course Regency standards like visit to Almack’s Assembly, dinner parties, and pretty dresses.
3. Your series has been inspired by the works of Jane Austen, which of her novels is your favorite and why?
Persuasion is hands-down my favorite. It’s a novel about second chances and I think so often we look at life as if we only get one chance to get it right. In this case, Anne Elliot gets her second shot at love by being true to herself and standing firm on her principles. Also, it’s the only one of Austen’s novels where the actual proposal is on the page, and it’s a beauty.
4. There’s definitely a touch of Emma in the Jane we find in Without a Summer. She has her own prejudices that come to the surface and I loved that she was flawed but ultimately redeemed. What was your inspiration for exploring issues of prejudice, with regards to race, class and religion, and placing Jane in the center of it?
In fact, Emma very much inspired the storyline. When I first read that book, I was not a fan. I disliked Emma’s prejudices and the way she meddled. When I reread it, I loved the book because I understood that Miss Austen was using it to talk about class in really interesting ways. She makes oblique references to all the servants required to live as a young lady of quality by having Emma be oblivious to the presence. I wanted to bring those servants on stage.
Structurally, this mirrors the novel Emma in terms of relationships. This meant that Jane had to be Emma, and that meant showing the flaws. What I loved when I reread Emma was the moment when she realizes that she is not the paragon of virtue that she thought she was. We all have prejudices and the moment when we recognize those in ourselves – it rocks our worldview because everyone thinks of themselves as a good person. If I was going to explore prejudices, then that moment of self-recognition seemed like a really important one to experience.
5. The relationship between Jane and Vincent continues to grow from book to book and I love how real the marriage feels with both its ups and downs. They’ve gone through so much that has put their relationship to the test. Any chance the next book will find them relaxing on vacation, sipping Madeira?
Actually… yes. For about five paragraphs and then pirates attack. It’s in the first chapter, so I don’t think it counts as a spoiler.
6. Masterpiece Theatre or HBO calls and they want to adapt the series for television. Who would you want to cast as Jane and Vincent?
Laura Carmichael would make a brilliant Jane.
Vincent would probably be Michael Fassbender, but he’d need contacts to make his eyes brown.
7. What was the last book you read that you would recommend to a friend?
Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells is a YA Fantasy set in wonderful secondary world with strong steampunk elements. I adored this book and ate it in one sitting. Emilie is the sort of resourceful protagonist that you wish you had as a friend. She gets scared when it’s appropriate, then pulls herself together and does what needs doing anyway. This is a swashbuckling tale that would sit nicely alongside Jules Verne, but with all the boring bits cut out. It’s so refreshing to see characters making intelligent choices in difficult situations.
8. You’re both a professional puppeteer and a professional writer. Does one inspire or influence the other?
I spent twenty years in puppet theater, so it absolutely influences everything. In puppetry there’s an emphasis on specificity. Because a puppet generally has no facial expression, every movement it makes carries the meaning. When I write, I find myself using the same sort of vocabulary of movement. For instance, in puppetry we say, “Focus indicates thought.” In other words, what your puppet is looking at is what it is thinking about.
This is also true for characters on the page. The thing that I have a character notice is what she is thinking about. Added to that is the fact that in fiction I can only show my reader one thing at a time and must rely on them to build a picture based on that. So the order in which I show things also has an impact. I’m essentially manipulating the focus of the character and the reader simultaneously. So, as with puppetry, there’s little ability for facial expression and every movement, thought and action becomes important.
I’m not sure how writing affects the puppetry to be honest. Largely I suspect that it’s because there’s 20 years of puppetry experience, which rather outweighs the eight or so years of writing.
9. Tell us about your upcoming projects.
I’m working on a novella for Audible.com’s Metatropolis, which is a shared world SF anthology.
I’m also just got notes back from my editor for Valour and Vanity, which is book four in the Glamourist Histories. That one is set in 1817 in Venice. We’ve been describing it as “Jane Austen write Ocean’s Eleven,” so there’s a wee bit more swashbuckling. There’s a gondola chase.
10. I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones and the Song of Ice and Fire series in which every family has a motto – the Starks have “Winter is coming” and the Lannisters have “Hear me roar!” What is the Mary Robinette Kowal motto?
It’s for when things go terribly, terribly wrong and would not fit well on a shield but…. “Some day you’ll look back on this and laugh, so you may as well laugh now.”
Oh… and there’s a very small Game of Thrones easter egg in Without a Summer.
I adore this series. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s honestly one of my favorite series and I highly recommend it. Besides, how can you resist these beautiful Larry Rostant covers?
Up-and-coming fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal enchanted fans with award-winning short stories and beloved novels featuring Regency pair Jane and Vincent Ellsworth. In Without a Summer the master glamourists return home, but in a world where magic is real, nothing—even the domestic sphere—is quite what it seems.
Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The year is unseasonably cold. No one wants to be outside and Mr. Ellsworth is concerned by the harvest, since a bad one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of eligible bachelors. When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent family in London, they decide to take it, and take Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good and her marriage prospects—and mood—will be brighter in London.
Once there, talk is of nothing but the crop failures caused by the cold and increased unemployment of the coldmongers, which have provoked riots in several cities to the north. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, none of which really helps Melody’s chances for romance. It’s not long before Jane and Vincent realize that in addition to getting Melody to the church on time, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of international proportions.